Periods of shyness are common in children: they might get very quiet and withdrawn in a new place, when meeting new people or starting school. However, when a child is talkative and behaves normally in familiar surroundings such as their own home, but refuses to speak or has serious difficulty communicating in certain social situations, it may be selective mutism.
Often considered a severe form of social anxiety, selective mutism usually develops in early childhood, often before the age of five. The inability or refusal to speak is not due to a lack of knowledge or comfort with language or due to another communication disorder such as stuttering. Children with Selective Mutism have a fear of social interactions where speaking to others and communicating is expected. Parents frequently first learn about a child’s difficulty from a teacher or other school figure, because the behavior is not apparent when the child is in a comfortable setting or environment.
Symptoms of selective mutism
- “Freezing” in place: standing motionless
- Blank facial expression
- Twirling or chewing hair
- Head turning
- Avoiding eye contact
- Withdrawing into a corner to avoid interaction